With all the hubbub about Comfort’s upcoming distribution of his version of The Origin of Species on college campuses, Inside Higher Ed has an in-depth piece this week on the teaching of evolution at Christian universities across our country.
It makes me sick.
Some professors, with support from prominent scientists, are trying to defend the teaching of evolution and to make it safe for those who teach biology and the Bible to talk about ways in which belief in evolution need not represent an abandonment of faith. Many Christian colleges have statements of faith — which in some cases must be followed by all students and faculty members — that endorse the literal truth of the Bible or of specific parts of the Bible (six literal days of creation, for example, or that Adam and Eve are the parents of all humans). So teaching evolution as scientific fact, which would just be taken for granted at many non-Christian colleges and universities, raises all kinds of delicate issues.
I hate hate hate how this article, perhaps in an attempt to be respectful of religion, presents evolution as a belief. It’s not a belief. It’s not something you can even believe in. You either understand it or you don’t. That’s it. That’s how it works.
This article, to its credit, does manage to capture one of my biggest frustrations in higher education. Without actually calling it what it is, this piece reveals to us just how dogmatic these “universities” are in their beliefs and the extent to which that compromises the education they are able to provide.
Richard Colling, who experienced controversy over teaching evolution during his tenure at Olivet Nazarene University, offers the following:
“If the colleges don’t change, no one will take us seriously. If we require students to check their intellect at the door of our churches and colleges, they will not come in.”
Well no shit! How is it that an institution that calls itself a university and commits itself to the pursuit of knowledge and intellect could favor unprovable, unfounded beliefs over science, knowledge, and the progress of human intellect? And we just smile and say, “Oh, how nice that they have a university of their own!” It angers me so much that a degree from such a place might be worth as much as the degrees I have earned.
The story wouldn’t be complete without Francis Collins and his promotion of “spirituality.”
Much of the push for change is coming through the BioLogos Foundation, a group founded by Francis Collins to promote “the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms seeking harmony between these different perspectives.”
Tell me, please, how anyone searches for truth in the spiritual realm. What are the parameters? How is it measured? How is it tested? This is faulty thinking for a scientist to allow and promote. It makes the initial assumption that there even could be truth in the spiritual realm, in addition to the assumption that there even could be a spiritual realm to begin with. I think it’s disgraceful and insulting to the field of higher education.
“We want to help the church and colleges come to terms with Darwin’s theory and not feel threatened by it,” said Karl Giberson, president of BioLogos, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College, and director of the Forum on Faith and Science, at Gordon.
I don’t get this at all. Why do we care whether they feel “threatened”? This isn’t how knowledge works. We take what we have learned and incorporate it into what we already know. Anyone who refuses to do that is the threat. Universities that have dictated that they refuse to teach what we know to be essentially scientific fact are the real threat to our society. Why do we accredit them as degree-granting institutions and then be very cautious about holding them to the most basic standards of learning?
It is “difficult to the point of impossible, said Giberson, to look at the scientific evidence, and believe that creation of the Earth and its creatures took place in six days. The difficulty for many Christian colleges, he said, is that they have statements of faith that require such a belief.
Welcome to what we’ve known for a good 150 years. Why is it more important to uphold “statements of faith” than to teach legitimate science?
Giberson said that the statements of faith of many colleges pose a real challenge for those wanting to teach evolution. Many colleges, he said, “would not create a mission statement that would make a fundamentalist feel unwelcome,” and so may end up making scientists feel unwelcome. As a result, he said, there are plenty of scientists who teach at such institutions who teach evolution, but quietly.
This kind of educational culture is a desecration on the institution of academia.
The article goes on for a while and describes some specific examples of schools “struggling” with teaching evolution. I want to share one more quote from the president of Gordon College. I find this extremely disturbing as an educator.
R. Judson Carlberg, Gordon’s president, said that the first question he received this year when he spoke to the parents of new students was from a woman who wanted to know if her daughter would get an F in classwork “if she holds to a late creation theory of literal fixed days.” Carlberg said he answered by saying that the college “isn’t in the business of indoctrination,” and that such a student has no assurance of an F or an A. “I said she’s not going to get an F if she can mount a strong argument in favor of it, but if she mounts a weak argument, she will be forced to go back.”
Let’s be perfectly clear: there is no scientific argument for any creation theory and more importantly, any suggestion of “literal fixed days” would be totally bogus. I don’t know if Carlberg is trying to just appease some of the fundamentalist clientele, but I find it extremely disconcerting that he would even consider that a student might be able to make a grade-earning argument for something that has no scientific legitimacy. What does that say about Gordon College? What does that say about the standard of education at Gordon College? I know people who went to Gordon College who are bright and capable, but I seriously question the credibility (and accredibility) of institutions with such lax educational standards.
As I have said before, the institution has to choose a priority: education or beliefs. If the required beliefs of an institution compromise the institution’s ability to provide an education, then I don’t think it’s fair to call them “religiously-affiliated schools.” They are “education-affiliated churches” and do not deserve the same respect or credibility as schools who maintain a consistently high standard for scientific education.